Liquid Sky (1982) Liquid Sky (1982) **

     Iíve seen a lot of different reasons for extraterrestrial beings to visit Earth over the years: curiosity, conquest, resource extraction, recruitment of breeding stock, interplanetary power politics, sport hunting, sheer accident, and who knows what else. Liquid Sky is the only movie I know of, however, in which aliens stop over on our planet for the express purpose of getting high. They pick a great spot to do it, tooó New York City, post-punk and pre-Giuliani, where every substance ever abused by man (or spaceman) is both cheap and easy to come by. But as these space travelers quickly discover, the best drug on offer in the Big Apple is one which the natives have not yet learned to extract for their own direct use.

     You might think it would be hard for a flying saucer to touch down in the heart of Manhattan without attracting attention, but thatís because youíre thinking too big. Director Slava Tsukerman never gives us a good look at his extraterrestrials (just one heavily processed and poorly focused shot conveying a vague impression of ligaments and eyeballs), but the creatures are plainly tiny. The craft in which theyíve traveled untold lightyears across the illimitable void is roughly the size of a Frisbee. Their landing site is pretty unobtrusive, too; they just set the ship down on the roof of a tenement block in the shadow of the Empire State Building, where it can be readily mistaken for just one more piece of the nondescript metal junk that clutters the upperworks of most modern urban edifices. Even so, the aliens havenít arrived completely unobserved. Apparently this isnít their first sojourn on Earth, and the pattern formed by their previous visits has caught the eye of an eccentric West German scientist by the name of Johann (Otto von Wernherr). It isnít quite clear how Johann detected the creaturesí return, but as soon as he does, he makes a beeline for New York and starts looking for traces of them and their activities.

     That particular rooftop was a good place to land for more reasons than just ease of camouflage, too. The inhabitants of the seventeenth-floor penthouse are a bitchy, mildly sociopathic performance artist named Adrian (Paula E. Sheppard, of Alice, Sweet Alice) and her bisexual aspiring-model girlfriend, Margaret (The Suicide Clubís Anne Carlisle, who also contributed to Liquid Skyís screenplay). Adrian deals heroin, and Margaret is a connoisseur of Quaaludes and cocaine, so if itís dope the aliens are after, theyíre off to a good start.

     The girls arenít at home when the aliens land. Adrian is onstage at some new-wave dive bar, performing a piece apparently entitled ďMe and My Rhythm Box,Ē and Margaret is discussing with a fashion photographer named Jack (Roy MacArthur, from Lurkers and Rejuvenatirix) the possibility of him featuring her in a forthcoming shoot. Actually, Jack would like to make it a double shoot with both Margaret and a boy by the name of Jimmy, who looks eerily like her (not least because heís also played by Anne Carlisle), but Jimmy is playing hard to get. Basically, the only way to get him to commit to anything is to offer him smack in exchange, and to make sure he gets the drugs only after rendering whatever services are required. Youíll know everything you need to about Jimmy after the following scene, in which he pity-wheedles Margaret into inviting him over to her place, but then spends the entire time snooping around for Adrianís stash until Margaret evicts him bodily from the flat.

     Sadly, though, Jimmy is maybe the least repellant guy Margaret knows. The rest of her social circle is made up of such winners as: (1) Vincent (Jack Adalist, from American Cyborg: Steel Warrior), the asshole who gains entry to the penthouse by offering cocaine, then attempts to drug Margaret into a rape-ready stupor by force-feeding her ludes instead; (2) Owen (Bob Brady, of Superfly and A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddyís Revenge), the college professor with whom Margaret has been having a desultory on-and-off affair since she was enrolled in one of his classes; and (3) Paul (Motherís Dayís Stanley Knapp), a failed poet trying futilely to recharge his creative batteries with heroin. Also worth mentioning, albeit for different reasons, is Paulís actress girlfriend, Katherine (Elaine C. Grove), whose success is resented by everyone around her. All of the aforementioned males bully Margaret into bed with them over the ensuing few daysó and thatís where the aliens on the roof come in. You see, the best high in the galaxy comes from mainlining the neurotransmitters which the human brain produces during orgasm, and the aliens can apparently beam those directly into their own nervous systems by firing some kind of crystal dart into the heads of Margaretís partners at the moment when they come. (What? Like you need to be told that none of these pigs is ever considerate enough to make sure Margaret gets hers, too.) That this invariably kills the subject is of no concern to themó and except for the first time, it isnít of all that much concern to Margaret, either. By the time Jack brings his crew over for the photo shoot, sheís actually starting to dig thinking of herself as the Girl with the Killer Pussy. Jimmy (who turns up for the shoot after all) really ought to consider being nicer to herÖ

     Meanwhile, Johann has met and befriended, of all people, Jimmyís rich mom (Susan Doukas, of Bloodrage and No Telling). All Johann really wants is a good vantage point to Margaret and Adrianís apartment, and Sylvia happens to live in a building that offers just such a sightline. Sylvia, however, is on the make something fierce, and she mistakes Johannís earnest story about dope fiends from outer space for the most creative pickup line sheís ever heard. Thus the scientistís efforts to prevent exactly the kind of hormone-harvesting holocaust currently ramping up at the penthouse are constantly thwarted and handicapped by the insistent cougar prowling around his telescope.

     Appropriately for a movie about junkies, Liquid Sky behaves rather as if it were on heroin itself. Itís listless and distractible and full of shit, and it has a pronounced tendency to nod off into lapses of consciousness so deep that youíre not even sure itís still alive. This is also one of those films in which what itís ďaboutĒ isnít really the focus of its creatorsí attention. In boiling its storyline down to just over a page, Iíve inescapably made Liquid Sky sound much more cogent than it actually is. And the aliens are really a very minor presence, except for a few minutes here and there. Most of the running time is spent bouncing from one clutch of surly drug addicts to another, and watching them mistreat each other and/or their companions of the moment. There doesnít seem to be a lot of point, except to revel in new wave esthetics while contemplating the purity of utter nihilism. The closest Liquid Sky comes to meaning anything is in the final act, when it sort of flirts with the idea of becoming a post-punk Ms. .45, with alien brain siphons taking the place of the Colt M1911. Frankly, I would much rather have watched that film instead. Nevertheless, if reveling in new wave esthetics appeals to you for its own sake, Liquid Sky has you set all the way up. And if you miss the apocalyptic New York of the early 80ís, watching this movie is like stepping into a time machine. Otherwise, this is strictly a picture for easily satisfied aficionados of arthouse-grindhouse collisions.

 

 

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